Wabi Sabi

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Wabi Sabi Book Poster Image
Cat's extraordinary quest finds beauty in the ordinary.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Cat is inquisitive, and other characters help her find what she's looking for.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is one book they will want to keep on their bookshelf permanently. While younger readers may not understand the haiku, they will definitely be drawn in by the story of the inquisitive cat and all the other animals she meets. Older readers also will be fascinated with the artwork and the poetry. Modern haiku is imbedded in the story, and ancient classical haiku written in Japanese calligraphy embellishes nearly every page.

 

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What's the story?

A short note at the beginning of this book tells the reader that Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept, or more correctly a feeling, that finds "beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest and mysterious." This is that kind of simplicity that is elusively complex, it seems. And that is the lesson learned by one little cat named Wabi Sabi from Kyoto, who after overhearing her master say that it's hard to explain her name, goes on a search for the truth of its meaning. That quest leads her on quite an extraordinary adventure, from her household to the city to the mountains, where she talks to cats, dogs, birds, and a wise old monkey.

Is it any good?

The book is formatted to open from top to bottom, which is intriguing to begin with. And each page that follows is an artwork in itself. Subtlly and gently, Wabi Sabi's journey of discovery unfolds in simple, flowing text, supplemented by original haiku poetry and elegant collages created of both painted and natural materials.

Also, decorating each page is an ancient haiku by a Japanese poet, either Basho or Shiki, written in calligraphy. Those haiku are translated in the back of the book, along with a helpful explanation of both haiku and the origins of Wabi Sabi. Deep and beautiful on many levels, this book is more than an elegant sum of its parts, and is sure to become a well-loved classic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the term "Wabi Sabi," and the subtleties of its meanings. Why was it so hard for the cat to find out the true definition of her name? Why do you think she cared? How would you explain it to her? Do you know what your name means? Families will also enjoy talking about the haiku on each page. What is a haiku, and how does each one help explain the part of the story on that page? How does the poetry add to your understanding of the cat's name? Also, examining the artwork together, picking out the various materials used in each collage, and noting how the pieces work together will be fun for both parents and kids.

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